Thursday, March 17, 2011Posted: 7:00 PM
By Patrick Mooney
PHOENIX John Grabow will make 4.8 million this year, or essentially as much as Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol combined. The Cubs need him to be the bridge to the back end of their bullpen.
The blueprint was drawn up so that Wood and Sean Marshall will be protecting leads and Marmol wont go weeks between save opportunities. The strength of this team wont matter if the Cubs are trailing 5-2 and losing the middle innings.
Grabow earned that two-year deal because he was so durable and effective, two traits he did not show last season. He tried to pitch through the pain in his left knee and live up to his contract but couldnt.
The Cubs werent overly concerned about Grabows sore left shoulder, but they had to be encouraged after seeing him on the mound Thursday at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. The 32-year-old reliever hadnt pitched in a game since the Cactus League opener on Feb. 27.
As Grabow walked back to the dugout after working a scoreless seventh inning, manager Mike Quade got up from his chair to give him a high-five. Grabow feeling good about his knee, shoulder and arm strength was the biggest takeaway from a 6-5 loss to the Oakland As.
The more the merrier, Quade said. We can talk about Marsh, Marm and Woody all day long. (But) we know its going to take a lot more than those guys. You (need) options (when) you go through a tough stretch where you have to pound on those guys two, three days in a row.
Grabow has appeared in 443 games since the start of the 2004 season, which ranks second-most among all left-handers in baseball. But he didnt even make it to the 2010 All-Star break, eventually shut down last summer with an MCL tear and a 7.36 ERA.
Through that experience Grabow learned that sometimes you need to back off, which is what he did recently after feeling tightness in his left shoulder.
The added intensity and the added reps maybe my body just wasnt ready for it, Grabow said. Three or four years ago, I just might have kept on going and made things worse. Now I kind of listen to my body and learn from mistakes in the past. Everythings worked out so far.
The Cubs think Grabow only needs about six more innings to be ready by Opening Day. After spending almost his entire professional life with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he feels added urgency.
Its going to be a great bullpen, and Id love to be a part of it, Grabow said. My whole career this is probably the best chance Ive got to go to the playoffs. So Im going to take advantage of that.
The difference between the Cubs being contenders or playing in front of empty seats at Wrigley Field will hinge in part on Grabow and their remodeled bullpen.
Id love to see him get back to when he was at his best, Quade said. I believe with his knee healthy (and) his shoulder strong, thats what well see.
PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.